The music of my childhood was Journey, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, and Barry Manilow. It blasted from the Kenwood system in our living room, especially when mom was cleaning, and from the car stereo when driving. Sometimes we competed with the stereo; other times, we just listened quietly.
My parents separated when I was 12. We lived with my great-aunt in El Paso for a while, then temporarily moved into a sparse two bedroom apartment. Besides the family dining table, mom’s first purchases were shelf stereos for us. I was encouraged to pick out two CDs; they were The Very Best of the Beach Boys: Sounds of Summer and one of 50 classical pieces. Music was a way to pass time, to relax after a rough day, to connect with family.
I think the first group I liked of my own accord, though, was Matchbox Twenty, whose albums Mad Season (2000) and More Than You Think You Are (2002) were released when I was 10 and 12, respectively. I felt, and still feel, like the music and lyrics have substance. I love Rob Thomas’ iTunes Originals commentary and go back to it every so often just to listen. I love that he recognizes Mad Season was intentionally “overproduced”, mentions that they thought it was cool that it got panned as a bad soul record, and that their 2002 album was “the first real Matchbox record”, with an emphasis on ’70s style rock. The music grew and changed with them, as it should.
I went to my first concert with my younger sister on 11 February 2008: The Jonas Brothers’ When You Look Me In The Eyes tour. Yes, I went ‘because of my sister’, but I liked them then and I like them now. Subsequent concerts have included Reba McEntire, Rascall Flatts, and Phillip Phillips – all of whom aren’t really in my typical genres but who had a couple songs I liked. Phillips’ show was very understated; he was completely immersed in the music and in having a good time, something I really admired.
In September 2014, a friend invited me to a Foster the People concert, because he wanted to see Fitz and the Tantrums open. They were probably the best opening act I’ve seen (with Us the Duo’s opener for Pentatonix coming in second). They played from their 2013 record More Than Just a Dream, as well as a fantastic cover of “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. And then Foster the People were over-amplified and not as good, and we left for a beer.
In May 2016, I saw Pentatonix in concert. The whole show was very good, but the encore was a standout. In a building with notoriously poor acoustics, they asked the audience to be completely silent. All the lights went out, save for one low wattage bulb on stage that they stood around. And then they performed a song from their eponymous album I always skipped, “Light in the Hallway”. It was eerie, and beautiful, and memorable.
In the last several years, I developed much more of an appreciation for Taylor Swift’s writing and music videos. There were a couple earlier songs I liked, such as “You Belong With Me” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. From those, to “Blank Space” (of which there is a great cover on Spotify by Imagine Dragons), to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, to “I Forgot That You Existed”, her music has depth and emotion while being accessible. She skillfully flits between styles while being wholly herself. I haven’t grown into Folklore yet, but it certainly seems to fit that pattern.
I have also started listening to more Spanish music (along with a little Portuguese). My own Spanish is not quite conversational, but I definitely feel at home listening to it. Spanish-language artists like Álvaro Soler, Juanes, Sebastián Yatra, Morat, and Alex Cuba make up the bulk of my listening currently, along with Portuguese-speaking artists like Jão, D.A.M.A, Melim, and Verso de Nós. They simultaneously make me feel at home and someplace else entirely.
Looking for thematic elements in the music I enjoy, I discern a few: intelligible and meaningful lyrics, instrumentation that is interesting but not overly complex, styling that is not overly quiet or melancholy even when the subject matter is somber. I love when artists are okay with their music not meeting expectations, when they experiment, and I am absolutely enamored by clever covers (Fall Out Boy’s “I Wanna Be Like You” is fun, by the way).
People who know me expect that I’m an alt rock kind of person – and I do like it sometimes. But my musical tastes are more diverse than that, or even than I have written tonight. I am thankful to be able to enjoy it, to have friends and family to discover and experience it with. What a wonderful world.